By Yuki Hayashi
From the print edition, Summer 2012
Much like global politics, the park is fraught with territorial and values-based conflicts. From progress-hampering acts of imperial intrusion, to sectarian aggression, the playground can be a political quagmire. Here’s how to broker peace.
Conflict #1: Helicopter parenting (your own)
You know you’ve become a cultural stereotype, but you can’t help it: You climb the climber with your five-year-old. You slide down the slide à deux, iPhone-recording it. You finagle side-by-side swings so you can coach her on gaining maximum air.
How to broker a truce: Pull the troops, let the colony self-govern
“When we do things for our kids that they can do for themselves, we are demeaning them—we are literally removing their meaning, their sense of who they are and what they can do. Hovering really is that bad. Either quit cold turkey or wean yourself. This is going to be harder for you than for your daughter,” says Calgary-based parenting coach Julie Freedman Smith, of Parenting Power. Stay available for hugs and reassurance—from the sidelines.
Conflict #2: Helicopter parenting (others)Hovering parents are making the playground unbearable for your kid! She’s too intimidated to ask other kids to play if they’re already playing with their dads, and tag is impossible with grownups cluttering the climber.
How to broker a truce: Soft-power diplomacy
“The only behaviour we can change is our own. Encourage your child to introduce herself to another child and invite her to play catch or tag. That might encourage the parent to leave the child to play. Or you could strike up a conversation with the parent,” says Freedman Smith. Another option is to hit the park with play date in tow. Or find a new playground where the hover culture is less ingrained.
Conflict #3: Judge-y moms
Your non-organic, possibly GMO wheat crackers, or bottle-feeding, are raising eyebrows among the yoga moms. (Or, conversely, your organic crackers are earning sneers from the socceristas.)
How to broker a truce: Satyagraha, a.k.a. passive resistance
“Not reacting in a defensive way is best. Simply say, ‘There are pros and cons to everything, and we have to trust ourselves to make the best decisions for ourselves and our little ones.’ And then smile sweetly and share the nut-free cupcakes,” says Lew Bayer, Winnipeg-based CEO of workplace civility training firm Civility Experts Worldwide.
Conflict #4: Potty-mouthed, ciggy-mouthing parents
Parents are sitting on the playground benches, swearing and smoking.
How to broker a truce: Soft-power diplomacy or intervention
“Sometimes the best approach is to use a bit of humor, rather than to scowl or be bossy. Give them the high-eyebrow-and-smile face and say nicely, ‘Sorry to seem square, but I’m nervous about the children overhearing all those bad words. Do you mind?’” says Bayer. Your other option is to take an I’m-telling-you-not-asking-you approach, which works best with a phalanx of Beta moms standing behind you.